Savoring Taiwanese Cuisine
and Chou’s Shrimp Rolls
By: Rigche Ma
Jointly presented by Taiwan Tourism Bureau, China Airlines and Sheraton LaGuardia East Hotel, Savoring Taiwanese Cuisine – a tasting of the best of Taiwanese tapas prepared by an elite team of chefs from Tainan City who had flown in with their secret ingredients in tow, created quite a bit of stir when all available tables were snapped up before the official press conference even took place. This was hardly surprising, given that Sheraton LaGuardia had already built a reputation and loyal following for hosting spectacular food fests and unique tastings.
On this occasion, the highlight was to be the acclaimed Chou’s Shrimp Rolls. At the media launch, the organizers teased with the ingredients and sample dishes artfully arranged on display, to highlight the Taiwanese tradition of ‘xiaochi’ – literally translated as ‘small eats’, or otherwise, best described as a variation of dim sum, the other famous Chinese dining experience. Still, it may take a lot to rival the proponents of xiaochi. Especially xiaochi from Tainan. And, among xiaochi, Chou’s Shrimp Rolls seemed to reign. As if a mark of gastronomic credibility, even Mr Thomas Chang, Director of Taiwan Tourism Bureau in the New York Office, shared in his speech that one of his best memories while at college in Tainan, was the lasting memory and longing afterwards for Chou’s Shrimp Rolls.
There is nothing ordinary about Chou’s Shrimp Rolls, and discerning foodies, who have tried them will willingly testify to the extraordinary succulence, taste and texture. But, the roll’s origins were humble and the greatness was painstakingly distilled the honest old-fashioned way; fresh ingredients, and hardworking hands. Created by Chef Chou in 1965, the rolls distinguished themselves from the variety of street foods he peddled in the early days. Today, the recipe that had long been perfected remains unchanged, calling for the finest ingredients – grilled shrimp, minced pork, fish paste, celery and green onions, and skills – stamina to sustain long periods of kneading, and precision to fashion neat, even rolls individually by hand. To prove the rolls’ authenticity, the chefs gave a live demonstration in front of the press, hand-mixing the ingredients to a practiced rhythm until the mixture reached a consistency suitable for stuffing.
However, Savoring Taiwanese Cuisine was not to be overshadowed by only one star player. Other features on the menu included a welcome drink of roselle, preserved plum, osmanthus, umezuke and prunus mume infused juice, paired with subtly sweet preserved fruit and crunchy Chou’s shrimp crisps, handmade milkfish and shrimp balls in bone soup, grilled mullet roe served with radishes and garlic, Tainan Coffin Bread – somewhat like soup in a bread bowl, except the bread was coffin shaped and the seafood chowder had a distinct flavor, Milk Fish Congee – a clear fish soup with rice swimming in it, Danzai noodles, stir-fried eel noodles and a dessert of almond tofu pudding.
For the lucky ones who were swift to procure a ticket to participate in this full course meal, the well-curated spread delivered more than just musings to the appetite; the dedication and sincerity of Tainan had been transported via its cuisine, into the heart and stomach of Flushing.